It seems every few months there’s a new service clamoring for our finite attention. Facebook carved out the detailed social network niche, whereas Twitter has locked in those who like it for scanning information and discussion quickly. Instagram took off because the photo niche had not been done well to that point. The war right now is for messenger service users, featuring players such as Snapchat and WhatsApp.
With every addition to the social landscape comes the potential for social media fatigue. Skepticism by older audiences greets new entries that vie for our attention (“ANOTHER social media product?”) whereas younger users uninterested in adult-dominated networks such as Facebook might give them a look.
The problem of social media fatigue is real, and one of the stronger social media trends in the past year has been about managing the social onslaught. For example, Nuzzel mines your list of Twitter users daily to see what links were shared, and every morning you get a list of the most-shared content from your feed. It’s a data-driven way to show you appealing content that you might have missed. There are other services trying to do the social management thing in different ways, but one of the most intriguing recent entries, “This.” (yes that period is supposed to be there), is taking a unique approach.
This.cm (access by invitation only for now, but it’s not hard to get one if you ask around) is built on the premise of asking what is the best thing on the Internet right now. In a recent NYT piece, creator Andrew Golis said the idea is to ask users to share the best content they’ve seen. Constraints are built into the system that help create this type of universe. While you follow people just like you might on Twitter and can read anything posted, you get to share only one link a day.
I’ve been on This.cm for almost a couple weeks and find the constraints useful. Unlike Twitter, on which I share links as I’m reading them, I find I’m keeping my This.cm share until the end of the day so that I make sure I’m sharing the best of the best. A couple of times I used my share before noon and ran into pieces later on that I would’ve preferred to push to my network. I try to only tweet quality reads, but that extra level of knowing you just get one share really makes me think even harder before sacrificing that precious resource for just any old piece.
The good and the bad
What am I sharing? I find I’m sharing more offbeat, deeper pieces that aren’t part of my usual list of things posted to Twitter. I curate a lot of articles about tech, gadgets, and media on Twitter. On This.cm, I have found I’m posting things more related to my other interests that have peripheral attachment to those main topics I curate – science, religion, philosophy, etc. I also have found I’m more apt to share longreads on This.cm knowing that I’m saying the length of a piece is worth the read. It’s harder to ask that of my audience on Twitter, which is more of a scanning medium.
The reading experience is even better. At night I pull out my iPad and have assembled for me anywhere from 4-10 links shared by people whose perspective I appreciate. They don’t disappear like they do in my fast-moving Twitter feed. These are pieces that might normally fly by me on Twitter and maybe even get ignored by curators like Nuzzel. Rarely have I been let down by the content; it often is rich, compelling, unique in perspective, or on a subject I know little about but offers a great learning window.
For instance, yesterday’s list of shares offered me a longread on Sir Jonny Ive and his work at Apple, a piece about the NY Times production process, a story about seat fillers at the Oscars, and a story about an episode of “Modern Family” shot only on iPhones. Many of them were a couple days old, but I’d only seen one on Twitter already. All were great reads.
I like This.cm because it offers something truly different. New social products need to identify a real hole in the market and offer a useful solution. In contrast, look at other recent networks like Ello that are basically replicating the function of Facebook with some minor changes. This.cm offers a window on the best of the Internet, and it feels like the first social media product constructed with tablets in mind because it encourages leaning back and diving into outstanding longform content. Because of that, it’s the first product since Instagram that seems to have potential staying power. In a crowded landscape, that’s a hard distinction to get.
The big problem really is that there is no mobile app, which makes sharing impossible unless you’re on a PC. This.cm uses a bookmarklet setup to do sharing, so you can’t post a link on a device that can’t handle that. It seems strange to me. Golis says This.cm’s spark came from a wish; he wished he got an email from the wonderful writer Ta-Nehisi Coates every night with the subject line “This.” and a link, knowing that whatever was in the email would be an awesome read. That implies a lean-back, read-on-tablet experience, so it’s bizarre they’ve made sharing on mobile difficult. That has to change.
What’s your This.cm strategy?
If you’re an individual, posting to This.cm is a pretty easy process. What’s the best thing I read today? Folks like this might have a blog, but individuals often are well conditioned to social media culture and don’t just post their own work to the exclusion of other voices. It’s a proven strategy for building your own online profile and giving your work some boost by extension. I’ve found great curators on Twitter are stars on This.cm.
For those who run corporate or news organization accounts, it’s a bit more complicated depending on whether you produce your own content or not. If you don’t produce a lot of content (for example, if you work for an advocacy organization) you are free to take the individual approach and post the best read for your interested audience.
If your business is content, though, you have a big choice. I follow only one brand on This.cm. I want to see what the Verge thinks is its best story today. My local paper? Not so much. Niche sites don’t publish a lot of content in a given day, and the focus means there is less of a subjective gap between high and low quality and even then I know that any content posted will be on something I care about. General news sites, though, face a problem where topics are so broad that many users won’t find a particular story useful. For example, Verge readers know they’re getting tech news. What if I’m a NYT reader who likes the political coverage and you post something on books or sports?
Thus I think a general news brand probably will want branded accounts for different areas (sports, politics, regional news, opinion, book reviews, etc.). Let people opt into those topics; you want followers to agree that, yes, that was an amazing story. That’s how you build value on this network.
The other problem brands want to think through is their posting strategy. Is This.cm an end-of-the-day product for them to recap a day of content, or is it something you post early in the morning to present the previous day’s best? It’s a breakfast table vs. living room couch question. You only get one share, and having a strategy is really important in this case.
This.cm is not an “X Killer” … there is no such thing
Invariably the tech writers will discover This.cm and do the same thing they always do: try to compare it to what’s out there, and ask whether it’s going to kill something already more familiar and popular. Cue the breathless speculation about whether social overload is so bad that This.cm will be a Facebook killer or Twitter killer.
It’s pure speculation, and it’s impossible to imagine any upstart coming along and slaying a giant social network right now. Instead it’s useful to ask whether This.cm fills a need people have, and if that niche is enough to get people to use it. So far the answer is yes, because the potential is strong and the experience so far has been of good quality. The mobile posting experience has to improve, but there is a lot of quality content being shared.
One highlight for me: I’m running into content on This.cm (and really good content at that!) that I’m not finding on other social networks. That suggests a filtering problem on those sites. Regardless, This.cm is compelling because it’s giving me content that is new and useful. Check out this piece from Spencer Haley on This.cm’s longtail. The upshot: about 80% of the content posted is coming from major players, but that last 20% represents a huge diversity of sites:
Here is the whammy of the long tail and quite possibly my favorite part of the This.cm experience: The final 20% is made up of 2,762 distinct domains. I love knowing that 4 out of 5 links I see on the site are likely from familiar domains, but that 5th link is likely from a shadowy corner of the internet with the bonus that it was personally recommended by a human being. Many of the most engaging and thoughtful pieces that I’ve been linked to from This.cm have come from the long tail, and I hope that the trend continues.
You’re more likely to discover not just new content but new blogs and sites as a user. That is incredibly useful, and it makes This.cm worth watching. It’s a world where users are driven to share their best. It’s a place without clickbait and oversharing, and it’s worth checking out. You can follow me if you want to get started.